City upkeep on foreclosed homes could take hit
Dealing with abandoned properties — mowing lots, boarding up pools and removing trash — is not a traditional function of a city’s Code Compliance Division, but it is quickly becoming a stock-in-trade for Cape Coral’s city government.
The maintenance of foreclosed properties helps reduce blight in neighborhoods and aids crime prevention, but proposed budget cuts could lead city officials to severely cut back on foreclosure maintenance programs or eliminate them altogether.
“I am very concerned we’re not going to be able to continue those programs,” Code Compliance Division Manager Frank Cassidy said.
Since June 2007, the Cape has mowed 4,534 properties and spent more than $239,000. In the 2007 fiscal year the city budgeted $16,000 for lot mowing.
In the most recent budget proposal, the Code Compliance Division is budgeted at $2.38 million, down 13.73 percent from the current budget.
That figure reflects a reduction of nine employees — one section manager, seven code compliance officers and one customer service representative.
“We’re talking about eliminating an entire team from code enforcement. We’re going to become totally reactive,” Cassidy said, adding that his department is currently 30 percent proactive.
Cassidy said most of his budget goes to employee costs, and his operating budget stands at about $300,000.
The foreclosure epidemic that has swept the nation in the last two years has hit Cape Coral hard, and it is showing no signs of stopping.
The Cape Coral-Fort Myers metro area had the nation’s highest foreclosure rate in 2008, and ranked second to Las Vegas in the first six months of 2009, with one in every 14 housing units receiving a foreclosure filing, according to a Realty Trac report released last month.
Cassidy is not the only city official concerned about the increase in costs and the decrease in available funds.
In a memo to council members last week, Assistant City Manager Carl Schwing stated that the foreclosure statistics “represent how close we are to loosing (sic) control.”
The city is also attempting to stretch fewer dollars, a result of the severe drop in property tax revenues. Property values in the Cape have fallen nearly 50 percent in the last two years.
Council members have set a target operating budget of $116.4 million — more than $10 million less than the current budget — and on Monday set a tentative millage rate of 8.8241.
The tentative rate is higher than the rolled back rate — the rate needed to collect the same amount of revenue as the previous year — of 7.2103, signaling that council members may want to keep some departments like Code Compliance funded at current levels.
“(Code Compliance) is the one thing to keep our city stabilized during these times,” Councilmember Gloria Tate said.
Because the department does not take up a large portion of the budget, Code Compliance is getting less attention during the budget process, she added.
“It was a smaller amount, but it was a very important piece of the budget,” Tate said.